John Unsworth, this year’s recipient of the prestigious Richard W. Lyman Award for leadership and innovation in the digital humanities, delivered a lecture entitled “New Methods for Humanities Research” at the National Humanities Center last night. It is in large measure about our work on the nora project. Here’s a bit:
If we consider humanities research in terms of the basic and the applied, some would say that all humanities research is basic research, because it never aims at having a practical application in the sense that, say, laboratory research on transistors, in the 1940s aimed at building amplifiers for electrical signals. On the other hand, if understanding is a practical outcome, then you might just as easily argue that all humanities research is applied, in that it aims directly at producing a practical outcome, namely changing the way we understand that part of the human record it has in view. Probably the truth is that in the humanities, as in science, both are done: Frye’s work on literary archetypes, or Freud’s work on the human psyche, or Saussurre’s work on language, might best be considered basic research: this research is aimed at developing theoretical frameworks, rather than at applying those frameworks to particular objects of attention—even though particular objects are always in view as the theories are developed. In that sense, when we apply those theoretical frameworks to the understanding of particular texts, to illuminate the text rather than to alter or extend the theory, we’re doing applied research. And again, of course, in the humanities as in science, we never really do only one or the other.
The call for nominations for next year’s Lyman is now open, by the way.
Update: Streaming video of the lecture also available; it includes the Q&A.Posted by mgk at November 12, 2005 08:40 PM